Journal of Alternative Perspectives Nov 2006
The Mediauric Rise of Shaolin:
A Theory-Based Critique of KungfuQigong Magazine's Shaolin
By LeRon Harrison
Over the last decade the presence of Shaolin in the American martial
arts community has grown; an increasing number of monks from the temple
in Henan Province have emigrated to America, established schools, and
begun teaching martial arts. With this growth comes a number of
questions posed from within and outside of the Shaolin community.
Examples of internally posed questions are: How should the Shaolin
community in America view itself in relation to the main temple and to
other martial communities; what is the best way to direct and develop
the current growth? Examples of externally posed questions are: how
should the various martial communities view the growing Shaolin
community; how should these communities go about interacting with them?
Copyright © LeRon Harrison
2006. All rights reserved.
To answer any of these questions, one must interpret and understand the
codes, beliefs, and ideologies that the Shaolin monks and their schools
operate under. The person responding to internally posed questions has
access to these points of knowledge and their “orthodox”
interpretation(s) as a member of the Shaolin community, but the person
addressing the externally posed question, however, is not as fortunate.
S/He must form a reading by ascertaining the ideologies and operating
codes without such commentaries. A starting place to do this is martial
arts magazines, and in particular Kungfu Qigong Magazine (or Kungfu
Taiji Magazine as it now known), where numerous articles on Shaolin
have appeared. While these articles can provide information to begin
answering the externally posed questions, they can also, as Robert M.
Entman and Andrew Rojecki explain, build and “sustain the foundations
of animosity, ... [which] arise from a sense that the out-group’s
members fundamentally differ from the in-group in their thinking and
values....” The schism between in-group and out-group within the
articles arises from the theoretical stance the authors and the
interviewees adopt. They argue on the behalf of Shaolin’s growth
largely by positing a system of order over Shaolin and wushu (and
implicitly over all martial arts). But as Bernard Faure explains in the
opening of his book The Rhetoric of Immediacy, “[t]he elaboration of a
Chan orthodoxy becomes a metaphor for the writing of a book [or a
series of articles]: just like the tradition, the author ideally
fulfills a function of mastery, control, and rarefaction of discourse….
in order to deconstruct the tradition, that is, to reveal it in its
essential multiplicity, one has to fight against the teleological
tendencies of controlled narrative….” The central point of the
essay is, in the words of Faure, to expose “the teleological
tendencies” of the Shaolin discourse and the way they move from the
mental realm to the social realm to become the source of animosity
between Shaolin kung fu and contemporary wushu (and by extension other
The concepts central to this essay come from Sabine Frühstück
and Wolfram Manzenreiter’s “Neverland Lost”, which provides three large
categories to group the topics the articles address.
Culture as a system of meaning
offers itself for analysis at
three levels where cultural representation become highly visible:
ideological, material, and social. The ideological dimension of culture
refers to entities and processes of the mind; the material dimension of
culture is best explained as the various modes and artifacts in which
meaning is accessible to the mind; the social dimension is demarcated
by the ways in which the cultural inventory of thoughts and things is
distributed throughout a community and its social relationships. 
In the case of the Shaolin articles the ideological element corresponds
to Chan Buddhism, the material element to Shaolin kung fu, and the
social element concerns Shaolin in relationship to wushu. In each of
these aspects, I will examine via various theoretical perspectives the
points of slippage and explore how they interconnect over the discourse
in Shaolin outside of China.
Chan is...?: The Ideological Element of Shaolin in America
With Shaolin’s emergence into the American martial
arts world, the larger martial community has a chance to begin to
understand the dynamics at work within Shaolin kung fu. A major point
of interest is the role of Buddhism in Shaolin, as it is the core of
Shaolin’s identity as a Buddhist temple and the locus to the material
and social elements of Shaolin culture. To examine this element of the
articles’ discourse, I employ the terminology from Robert M. Entman and
Andrew Rojecki’s The Black Image in the White Mind—the frame, schema,
and the meta-schema. The frame “reside[s] within media texts and public
discourse... highlight[ing] and link[ing] data selectively to tell more
or less coherent stories that define problems, diagnose causes, make
moral judgments, and suggest remedies.” In the case of the
Shaolin articles, the frame the majority of the articles work within is
to aid “in the spread of Shaolin dharma to America.” Beneath
frame is the schema, “a set of related concepts that allow people to
make inferences about new information based on already organized prior
knowledge.” In the case of these articles, the schema is
explained in the following way by Gene Ching.
While Chinese Chan is practiced in the
U.S., Japanese Zen is more
dominant... Chinese Chan has yet to be significantly acknowledged in
American popular culture.... It is overshadowed by Japanese Zen... 
Lastly, there is the meta-schema, “overarching associations between
sets of schema that link concepts....” From the above quote we
can see two things: 1.) there are two schemas involving Shaolin—the
Chan schema and the Zen schema, and 2.) the two schema are in
competition (or perhaps antagonism) in the mind of the author. There
are two meta-schemas that can relate Shaolin, Chan, and Zen together:
either Chan Buddhism as the form of Buddhism practiced at Shaolin needs
to be distinguished from Zen or understood through Zen. We see an
example of the first meta-schema in Ervin Nieves’ interview with Shi
Guolin when Shi Guolin explains
[t]here is a saying: Chan was created
in India, blossomed in China, and
gained fruit in Japan.... The Japanese learned Chan and used it in
their real lives. The Chinese contributed to the development of Chan
theory in the temples and mountains, but not everyone embraced it. 
While Shi Guolin’s explanation is good at abeying an antagonistic
Chan/Zen relationship, it nonetheless leaves a point of slippage in its
wake—Chan as Buddhist theory and Zen as Buddhist practice. Benard Faure
presents the problem within this genealogical history in the opening of
his book. “True, Zen succeeded historically to Chan, but what did it
actually inherit from it?... Chan and Zen are not monolithic entities,
but fluid, ever changing networks....” As Shi Guolin fails to
address this fundamental question, in the end his train of thought
simply opts to gloss over this meta-schematic point of slippage.
The more commonly seen meta-schema in the articles is that Zen and Chan
can be used interchangeably, evidenced in titles like “Thoughts on Zen
and Kungfu” and subtitles like “Senior Monk Shi Deyang Contemplates the
Mystery of Shaolin Zen.” The problem with this interchangeability is
that, as Faure says, neither Chan nor Zen are subject to one standard
definition. Furthermore, the “Zen” people commonly refer to is often
the Zen that D. T. Suzuki described “between the turn of the twentieth
century [and] the mid-1960’s.” This “Zen”, as Faure explains,
is in many respects an inverted image
of that given by Christians;
[Suzuki] relied on Christian categories even when rejecting them. If
the Western standpoint represent an Orientalism... in which Buddhism
was looked down upon, Suzuki... represent[s] an Orientalism that offers
an idealized, nativist image... 
The “Zen” so often used in parlance refers to an idealized image of
Buddhism and not to actual practices. But the bigger problem in using
Zen as an interchangeable term with Chan is that Chan Buddhism is never
defined. As Etienne Balibar explains, “[a]ll identity is individual,
but there is no individual identity that is not historical, or in other
words, constructed within a field of social values, norms of behavior
and collective symbols.” The authors of the articles seen to
acknowledge the historical element of Balibar’s statement through the
Chan = Zen equation while completely ignoring the opening observation.
As a result, we, the reading audience, are no more clear on what Chan
Buddhism and its practices are than before we read the articles. So
while the first meta-schema addresses one problem only to have another
arise, this second meta-schema is undermined by a failure to address
the problem within the terminology and concepts it uses.
To conclude this section and segway into the discussion of kung fu as
the material element of Shaolin culture, I would like to look at a
phrase that appears in several articles—chan quan yi ti (禪拳一體 ).This
phrase appears in the afterword to an article on Shi Guolin in the
August 2000 edition and in Abbot Shi Yongxin’s opening message of the
January/February 2002 edition. The normal translation of this phrase is
“Chan and fist are one body.” This reading has as its underlying
premise that Chan, fist (quan) and one body (yi ti) are all nouns and
there must be some equivalence among the three. The best way to
summarize this argument is that the authors are saying that chan quan
yi ti is an abbreviated form of the Classical Chinese sentence chan yu
quan, yi ti ye (禪與拳，一體也), which translates as “Chan and fist are one
body.” However, there is another way of seeing this phrase.
Michael Fuller, in his book An Introduction to Literary Chinese,
identifies expressions like yi ti as a number complement, “a number and
measure after [a] noun or verb.” If we see the Shaolin
possessing numerical and grammatical elements, there are two possible
ways to view the phrase. One way is, as the articles and their
participants describe, an equation where Chan Buddhism and Shaolin kung
fu are part of the “one body”, represented mathematically as:
Chan Buddhism + Shaolin kung fu = 1 body
There is, however, a second relation the three can enter into: a
distributive one, represented mathematically as:
(Chan Buddhism + Shaolin kung fu)1 body
The implication of this relationship is that it expresses the exact
opposite of the equation; Chan Buddhism and Shaolin kung fu constitute
two distinct bodies (of knowledge) which may or may not be mutually
exclusive. The problem within the articles is that rather than
realizing that both readings are not only possible but at work, they
privilege the equation reading as it fits in their minds with the
framework of promoting Shaolin in America. In doing so, they go against
Chan Buddhist doctrine as described by Master Sheng-yen.
[I]n certain respects Chan truly
requires no learning, no practice, no
effort whatsoever. If it did depend on such things, it would not be
Chan. But we are very active, and addicted to artifice, and have far
too many things to do. . . . For this reason it is not entirely correct
to say that Chan involves no practice. There are indeed principle that
must be followed. 
So what the articles do is focus on one half of Chan ideology; in
describing the material and social dimensions of Shaolin culture, the
errors within the ideological discourse, as I shall illustrate, are
carried over—if not compounded—in the later two facets of the
Kung fu as Shaolin’s Material
As stated earlier, Sabine Frühstück and Wofram Manzenreiter
define the material element of culture as a means of connecting mind
and meaning. On the surface, Shaolin kung fu would seem to fit the
description, especially in the following passage from Master Sheng-yen.
Many Asian traditions of healing and
religion employ methods of
physical exercise as a supplement to meditative contemplation. In
Indian yoga, for example, there are various sequences of movement and
postures known as aµsana. . . . These aµsana are used to
prepare the body and mind in preparation for deeper method of
samaµdhi, or meditative concentration. In Chinese Daoism. .
.Taijiquan and the various martial arts forms are used for much the
same effect. The Chinese Buddhist tradition makes use of the martial
exercises of the famous Shaolin Monastery. 
But can the same be said once these ideas are placed into the framework
of the Shaolin articles? If the problem of the ideological discourse is
in/description—that is, how completely and accurately Chan Buddhism’s
doctrine is described and the implications bound up with omissions,
then the problem of the material discourse is exemplification—that is,
how the authors and participants rationalize Shaolin kung fu as
embodying Chan Buddhism. By “exemplifying”, I am referring to Noël
Carroll’s definition: “x exemplifies y if and only if (1) x possesses y
and (2) x refers to y.” The heart of the material problem
the second condition of Carroll’s definition; how exactly does Shaolin
kung fu refer to Chan Buddhism, especially when Chan Buddhism attempts
to eradicate all references?
Chan Buddhism is known for its distrust of language as “language was
recognized by [Chan masters] as a necessary evil. . . .”
the dialogues of Chan Buddhism, when they make references to and
definitions of items, point to something that seems completely
unrelated as illustrated in the example below.
The Master gave an evening lecture,
instructing the group as follows:
“At times, one takes away the person but does not take away the
environment. At times, one takes away the environment but does not take
away the person. At times, one takes away both the person and the
environment. At times, one takes away neither the person nor the
At that time, a monk asked, “What does it mean to take away the person,
but not take away the environment?”
The Master said, “Warm sun shines forth spreading the earth with
brocade. The little child’s hair hangs down, white as silk thread.” . .
We can see a similar type of “areferentiality” in the correlation of
Chan Buddhism and Shaolin kung fu within the articles.
In his “Thoughts on Zen and Kung Fu”, Shi Guolin opens with the
following statement: “Shaolin kungfu and Zen are inseparable. They
can’t survive, one without the other. In Shaolin Temple Zen is a theory
you can’t touch or see, but it can be represented through martial
arts.” In his description, Shi Guolin makes Chan intangible
an element of the mind, but how exactly Chan is represented (and by
extension gains tangibility) through martial arts is never explained.
However in an earlier interview, he gives a much lengthier explanation.
Shaolin Kung Fu is a form or
manifestation of Chan. For those entering
the realm of Wu (martial arts) with a mind on Chan, the silent smile
awaits them. When Chan and Wu are in harmony, Chan and Chuan (Fist) is
nowhere to be found. Shaolin martial arts then, is a part of spiritual
practice from China’s Shaolin Monastery. The idea is that by following
a strict martial arts discipline, the gap between the body and the mind
is bridged. If the Buddhist teachings are adhered to something magical
happens, namely, the martial arts discipline is transformed into a
vehicle for spiritual enlightenment. 
Here Shi Guolin attempts to show that kung fu is welcomed as an
acceptable practice the same way Chan says the Gautama Buddha’s dharma
was welcomed—with a smile.
When the Buddha was trying to pass on
his Dharma, he picked a flower
and showed it to his assembled disciples. None of them understood the
meaning of his action except Mahaµkaµsyapa, whose face
broke into a wide smile. Buddha then declared: “I hold the Treasure of
the Eye of the True Dharma, the deep and subtle spirit of
nirvaµna and I now pass it on to Mahaµkaµsyapa. 
By alluding to the above story, Shi Guolin claims that the infusion of
Chan into martial arts is as simple as the transfer of Buddhist dharma.
However the transferal story is not so simple at its core. How exactly
Mahaµkaµsyapa’s smile signifies his worthiness to receive
the dharma is never explained. Likewise, Chan’s infusion into kung fu
has an unresolved question at its core: how exactly is Chan able to
enter into the practice of martial arts? Shi Guolin goes on to describe
the role of breathing in martial arts, which does parallel Master
Sheng-yen’s description of breathing in zuochan (Japanese, zazen,
“seated meditation”), but if we recall the Sheng-yen passage cited at
the beginning of this section, martial arts can only supplement zuochan
practice, which is the practice that leads to enlightenment. So yet
another question must be addressed: can kung fu be the primary vehicle
for obtaining Chan enlightenment and if so how?
To answer this question, we must first understand what Chan
enlightenment is. Master Sheng-yen provides the following definition of
The word chan, from which Chan
Buddhism, or Zen Buddhism, takes its
name, is a Chinese transliteration of the Indian Buddhist term dhyana,
meaning “meditative concentration” or “meditative practice.” Applied
specifically to the Chan or Zen school, it carries the particular sense
of the cultivation and experience
of enlightenment itself, and not just
any sort of meditative experience. Thus Chan Buddhism is often
characterized as the school of meditative experience and enlightened
insight par excellence. 
The central concept of Chan is the experience of the Buddha’s
enlightenment. So if Shaolin kung fu is a Chan vehicle, it must lead
practitioners to experience the Buddha’s enlightenment. In “Shi
Xinghong on His Zen (Chan) Experience”, an attachment to an article on
Shi Xinghong, the monk relays an encounter with his Chan master. He
one day he called me to his room. He
asked me, “How do you think your
kung fu is?” I replied naturally, “Not bad, pretty good. Why do you
ask?” He said, “Because I don’t think you’re a top kung fu person.” I
asked, “Why?” He said, “Because your mind is not quiet. It’s floating.
Thus you could never be good. His words suddenly hit me, just like a
staff on my head. 
This story clearly centers around experience, but is this, as the
author implies by the title, a Chan experience? According to Master
Sheng-yen, all Buddhist system, Chan included,
describe a process of taking body and
mind from a state of confusion
and disparity; through a condition of one-pointedness, or unity; to the
experience of no-mind, or no-thought. Methods of practice may
themselves be functionally classified as:
(1) Procedures for purifying the mind
of basic hindrances and
(2) Methods for concentrating or unifying the mind. . .
(3) Techniques for developing the uniquely Buddhist insight into
selflessness. . .
(4) Buddhist techniques for extending the insight of no-self to that of
(5) Emptiness in its absolute or most profound sense. 
Shi Xinghong’s experience and the method that provoked it fall into the
first category as they center around removing the obstacle to
improvement. It is merely the first step to achieving no-mind and not
an experience of no-mind. As the experience of emptiness never appears
in any of the articles, the Chan discussed in the articles is an
ideological system that cannot be described in totality. The problem is
the same one Zhang Longxi sees Confucian and Zhuang-zi encounter.
When Zhuangzi called for the man who
forgets his words while preserving
his meaning, he seemed to know that he was never to find such a man. We
may also recall that Confucius, despite his wish to be silent,
nevertheless acknowledges the necessity of speaking to transmit what
the sages have already said in the past. 
However, unlike these two ancient Chinese philosophers who seek out
silence but find themselves writing, the participants of the Shaolin
discourse seek to flesh out an explanation of their art as a practice
of enlightenment. But they overlook and ignore the pauses and gaps
within their own discourse, especially the silence of Buddha’s
successor in the dharma transmission story. As a result, the connection
between Chan and Shaolin is not (nor will it ever be) complete as it
incorporates the “areferentiality” inherent in Chan. Then why assert
that Chan and Shaolin kung fu are inseparable? Why say that kung fu
examplies or represents Chan Buddhism in order to promote Shaolin
Bernard Faure presents an answer to these questions.
One cannot rule out that the common
assertion according to which
neither the Dao nor awakening can be spoken of reflects the reluctance
of a spiritual or artistic elite to disclose its esoteric knowledge and
constitute an attempt to preserve its social distinction and symbolic
capital. The obvious difficulty, and perhaps impossibility, of
conveying truth through language should not prevent us from suspecting
some unwillingness on the part of those who have a specific interest in
remaining the privileged holders of ultimate truth. 
While the writers and interviewed subjects of the articles may disagree
with Faure’s critique of the Shaolin/Chan linkage as involving a
“reluctance” or “specific interest” on their part, they cannot deny
Faure’s observation of attempting to create and preserve social
distinction and symbolic capital. This is at the core of bringing
Shaolin dharma to America. As much as the authors and subjects work to
clear up misconceptions about Shaolin, they are asserting, as Faure as
well as Früstück and Manzenieter point out, that Shaolin has
a unique position among martial arts. But this assertion of a social
dynamic within Shaolin kung fu has flaws like its ideological and
Lines of Demarcation: The Social Nature of the Shaolin/Wushu Debate
The last element of the articles’ discourse to explore is the social
element. Frühstück and Manzenreiter define the social element
of culture as “the ways in which the cultural inventory of thoughts and
things is distributed throughout a community and its social
relationship.” From the articles alone it is very hard to determine the
distribution of thoughts and things related to Shaolin. However,
Shaolin’s social relationship with wushu is present within the
articles. Jean-François Lyotard, in his seminal work The
Postmodern Condition, explains how narratives such as the articles are
able to not only describe but create social relations.
[A] narrative tradition is also the
tradition of the criteria defining
a threefold competence—‘know-how,’ ‘knowing how to speak,’ and ‘knowing
how to hear’ [savoir-faire, savoir-dire, savoir-entendre]—through which
the community’s relationship to itself and its environment is played
out. What is transmitted through these is the set of pragmatic rules
that constitutes the social bond. 
Over the course of the articles there are a number of moments where the
“social bond” between Shaolin and wushu is described and can be viewed
in terms of the actions Lyotard uses: doing (faire), speaking (dire),
and listening (entendre).
The earliest expression of the wushu/kung fu relationship is found in
the interview with Shi Guolin.
[T]hough it does appear that
Shaolin wushu has gained a great
ascendancy in China—here I am using the term wushu to mean martial arts
without Buddhism—I am confident that real Shaolin martial arts will
continue to exist at the Shaolin Temple. From appearance Shaolin wushu
is the same as Shaolin martial arts, but the real difference is that in
genuine Shaolin, the mind and body are united in harmony via
Buddhism.…Kung fu forms appear the same as in wushu. The key difference
in the wushu practitioners just practice the external forms, but monks
use kung fu as an entry into Ch’an. Genuine Shaolin martial arts has
the overriding principle that one must use Ch’an to enter martial arts.
Shi Guolin’s statement is a deontic one, which “prescribe[s]. . . the
difference between the sexes, children, neighbors, foreigners,
etc.” In this case, it prescribes the difference between
kung fu, which intimately connected with Buddhism, and wushu which
lacks such a connection. The social dynamic Shi Guolin is espousing via
the above passage can be explained using the actions of Lyotard. Shi
Guolin sees the Shaolin-wushu relationship as involving acting and
speaking; the last feature of listening is a priviledge afforded to
Shaolin kung fu because of its connection with Buddhism. But as
demonstrated in the prior two sections, the argument that Shaolin kung
fu is a manifestation or exemplification of Chan is not without
problems. The problems of an incomplete description of Chan ideology
and an areferential connection between Chan and kung fu thwarts any
attempt to establish Shi Guolin’s categories of Shaolin kung fu as
connected with Buddhism and wushu as unconnected.
A more belligerent reformulation of this social dynamic appears in the
comments of Shi Deyang.
As a martial artist, I think the way
the world took in the past
encountered some twists….Compulsory and traditional competition lost
their original taste. Obviously, it is because the living standard
of the people has been much improved. Practitioners don’t
pay enough attention on energy to practice. It’s lazy kung fu.… For
example, modern compulsories ask practitioners to make their movements
to be more open—it’s affected by the “open policy”—this lost the attack
and defense application of martial arts. 
Shi Deyang takes a different approach; he opts to place a bracket
between the martial world and the world-at-large. The world-at-large
does not have interest in the true nature of martial arts and in Shi
Deyang’s opinion, should stay out of the martial world. In terms of
Lyotard’s triad of actions, Shi Deyang removes not only wushu’s ability
to be heard but its ability to speak. His deontic statement sees wushu
as connected to the things he does not wish to see in martial arts. Shi
Deyang’s tactic is similar to one Karatani Kojin sees Immanuel Kant
makes. “In The Critique of Judgment, Kant attempted to bracket
interest, but what made this thought possible was the commodity economy
itself. Hence, ever since art came to be art, it has been connected to
commodification.” Likewise Shi Deyang’s critique of economic
political influence on martial arts is itself connected to those same
economic and political systems. That very fact is apparent in the
At that moment, Deyang stopped to
answer his cell phone.… Deyang’s
phone even has an intricate ring tone, reminiscent of a Buddhist chant.
After quickly deflecting the call, he continued. “What I just said now
on the Open Policy and world reform, there are areas that mobile phones
cannot reach…” 
The stance Shi Deyang takes is possible only because of its
interconnectedness with the very things he critiques—politics,
economics, and their influence on marital arts—which in turn undermines
the critique itself. But not all monks have such problematic approaches
to describing the relationship between Shaolin kung fu and wushu.
Towards the end of the article on Shi Deshan and Shi Xinghao, the
position of these two monks on the wushu/kung fu distinction is stated
Kung Fu is an ancient art to protect
the country and defend against
enemies. True Kung Fu cannot be performance.…Modern times have created
Wushu, which is performance. Wushu still has defense skills, but they
are made more flowery, transforming it into a beautiful art.… Wushu is
a beautiful expression of martial skill that resonates with everyone,
even non-martial artists, because it is so spectacular and entertaining
It emphasizes art and spirit.… Now, both traditional Kung Fu and modern
Wushu are important aspects of Shaolin, just sharing these enlightening
skills outside China is vital to the spread of the Shaolin way. 
Here we see the same elements—the promotion of Shaolin dharma vis-a-vis
kung fu and wushu—cast in a different light. This statement would reach
full clarity two years later when Shi Xinghao explains
Shaolin was used for fighting and you
had to know it to protect your
life, it was a way of survival. Even today there might not be masters
as great as before, because now we have guns and because times are
different—maybe no one feels that you must know kung fu in order to
stay alive. So this is where Longfist comes in; it is the same concept
just developed at a different time in China’s history. The focus is
more on appearance than application, but as I mentioned before it has
its roots in traditional kung fu. There is no need to keep them too
separate, and yet you can’t allow them to be too close. You must know
the difference between them and be able to separate them out if need,
but one is not better than the other… it just depends on what you are
Shi Xinghao separates himself from Shi Guolin and Shi Deyang in a major
way by discussing the wushu/kung fu division in terms of historical
trends and moments. Shi Xinghao is allowing a space for wushu to be
heard. This is largely due to the fact that he sees wushu and Shaolin
kungfu dialectically, that is, he recognizes the interconnected yet
contradictory nature between Shaolin kung fu and contemporary wushu.
Among the three descriptions, Xinghao’s argument more accurately
reflects the dynamic between the two martial arts. This distinction
matters only because Shi Guolin, Shi Deyang, and a majority of the
Shaolin articles and their participants push for a judgment call in
favor of Shaolin. Shi Xinghao’s approach to his own art as well as
wushu represents the position that open Shaolin up and best promotes
the spread because it invites rather than ostracizes and dialogues
rather than dismisses. But what does this opinion being relegated to
the minority position say about the Shaolin discourse in the Kungfu
Hans-Georg Gadamer, one of the major figures in hermeneutic philosophy,
makes the following observation in an essay discussing the early phases
of hermeneutics in light of its current course of development.
It seems… to be generally
characteristic of the emergence of the
hermeneutical problem that something distant has to be brought close, a
certain strangeness overcome, a bridge built between the once and the
The Shaolin articles in Kungfu Qigong Magazine are struggling with
their own “hermeneutical” problem. The authors and interviewed subjects
find themselves having to overcome the distance and strangeness that
can alienate Shaolin from the American public. In response to this,
they have tried to work out a description of Shaolin on a number of
levels. But this description, as I have shown here, breaks down because
the participants often fail to realize their description is prosleptic.
That is, the things the participants choose to overlook are the same
things that undermine and invalidate the description. But most of the
participants would not want to accept this observation; they would
argue that they are merely drawing on the stance Shaolin has always
adopted. To conclude this essay, I would like to consider where this
prosleptic invocation of tradition originates and whether is something
salvageable in the discourse.
The Shaolin articles can be thought of as part of what
Frühstück and Manzenreiter call territorialization, “the
extension of [a] culture by adding new territory….” Most of
participants in the discourse would argue along the lines that Harumi
Befu does at the end of his introductory essay.
[A] major conclusion that one arrives
at in considering Japan’s
globalization is the undeniable presence of Japan as a center and its
peripheries…. [T]he center-peripheries concept has to be understood in
temporal terms: the center multiplies and moves. 
On the surface, Befu’s observation seems to support the goals of the
Shaolin proponents; but in fact it is not as much of an ally as it
appears to be.
Befu’s discussion of globalization later reveals a complicit concept.
“Likewise, at one time, automobile manufacture was limited to the West,
but is now decentered; automobiles are made in other parts of the
world, including Japan, which is a center rivaling the West.” (Befu,
19) Globalization, as Befu points out, is not a process by which a
local system is reproduced on a global scale, but one that breaks down
old systems and forges new one. The process of “decentering” inherent
in globalization “necessarily results in diversification…”
connection among globalization, decentering, and diversification seems
to have left most of the Shaolin proponents in a quandary, expressed in
the following way by Shi Guolin.
The greatest challenge that the Shaolin
Temple faces in the 21st
century is to continue to spread the teaching of Buddha… given the
restrictive nature of current government of China and the fast and
frenzied pace of many of today’s modern societies. The temple must
remain true to its Chan Buddhist roots while as the same time
adopt[ing] modern methods to disseminate its message. 
On the surface, Shi Guolin’s quandary seems to be a somewhat neutral
hermeneutical question. It has a number of deontic phrases like the
“the restrictive nature of the current government in China” and “the
fast and frenzied pace of many of today’s modern societies;” however
these do not pose a significant problem to establishing the
hermeneutical bridge that Gadamer describes. However, these deontic
phrases are reworked in a more belligerent form by Gene Ching.
There is a diverse selection of styles
in the U.S. Not as many people
want to study Shaolin kung fu as are interested in learning Japanese
Karate, Korean Tae Kwon Do and other arts. Additionally, without a
basis in Confucianism, Americans are not as loyal to their masters or
style, and many do not commit to a level of dedication that Shaolin
requires….American students have become the voice of Shaolin in both
the general media and the martial arts magazines. This is somewhat a
function of the language barrier, but is aggravated by the cultural
barrier. Many American writers do not understand the complexity of
Such strong deontic statements as these make overcoming the alienation
of Shaolin nearly impossible. So why does this happen yet again?
Gadamer present a rationalization of this aggressive stance later in
My thesis is… that the thing which
hermeneutics teaches us is to see
through the dogmatism of asserting an opposition and separation between
the ongoing, natural “tradition” and the reflective appropriation of
it. For behind this assertion stands a dogmatic objectivism that
distorts the very concept of hermeneutical reflection itself. In this
objectivism the understander is seen… in such a way as to imply that
his own understanding does not enter into the event. 
The problem, according to Gadamer, lies not in the approach of the
Shaolin proponents but in the attitude behind the approach. The
hermeneutical reflection Gadamer speaks of involves something that is
known as the hermeneutical circle, the process of going from things one
has already interpreted and understood to things one is attempting to
understand and interpret. Under the “dogmatic objectivism,” however,
the circle undergoes a transformation. No longer is it a process of
understanding but a loop oscillating between providing information that
can lead to understanding of Shaolin and giving deontic pronouncements
that lead to misunderstanding and alienation. The Shaolin discourse
unfortunately is, in the words of Theodor Adorno,
confine[d] within precisely those
stereotypes that thinking
should dissolve…. The formation of stereotypes… promotes collective
narcissism. Those qualities with which one identifies oneself, the
essence of one’s own group, imperceptibly become the good itself and
the foreign group, the others, bad. 
It is in light of these observations that Shi Xinghao’s approach is so
appealing; Shi Xinghao avoids descending to stereotyping and judgments
of good and bad and seems to honor Gadamer’s vision. With all of this
in mind, how should we view the Shaolin discourse without stereotyping?
The answer, I believe, can be seen in Donald Lopez’s examination of the
interpretation of Buddhist sutras.
The variety of characterizations of the
word of the Buddha...
points to a tension that moves through a the exegesis of the
Mahaµyaµna sutras, a tension between what the Buddha taught
and what he intended, between upaya and doctrine, between method and
truth. Simply stated, the problem is this: The Buddha taught many
things to many people in accordance with their aspirations, capacities
and needs. How is one to choose among these myriad teachings, each
“true” for its listener, to determine the final view of the teacher?
One possible answer to Lopez’s question is to not choose and instead
try to see all these teachings and the relationships they enter into.
This would be to examine what Pierre Bourdieu calls the “field,” which
involves “the structured set of manifestations of the social agents…,
literary or artistic works, of course, but also political acts or
pronouncements, manifestos or polemics, etc…” The only problem is
that the set is not a complete one. While the Kungfu Qigong articles
are clearly part of the field, there are a number of voices not yet
represented. We have yet to hear from the American students of Shaolin
so as to see how they view their role in the history and tradition of
Shaolin. Nor have we heard from the other monks in America besides Shi
Guolin and Shi Xinghao, who sit in a mediating position between
American and the Shaolin Temple. Likewise, the voice of the Shaolin
Temple in Henan is also quiet on its view of the growth of Shaolin in
America. All of these voices have the power to redefine the field and
the relationships within it. Thus, Shaolin is in a state of flux; what
this essay has done is to lay out the dynamics of a particular moment
in Shaolin’s growth in America and how these can impact the relations
amongst members of the Shaolin communities as well as members of other
martial art communities. If there is a lesson for all martial artist to
learn, it would be that we all need “to come of age, look [our] own
historical and societal situation and the international situation
straight in the eye….” For only when we do this can we, as
martial artists, begin to move beyond questions of in-group/out-group
and start to play a more positive role in the martial traditions we so
value and cherish.
1. Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, The Black Image in the
White Mind: Media and Race in America (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 2000), 57, 50.
2. Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique
of Chan/Zen Buddhism (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1991), 3-4.
3. Sabine Frühstück and Wofram Manzenreiter, "Neverland Lost:
Judo Cultures in Austria, Japan, and Elsewhere Struggling for Cultural
Hegemony at the Vienna Budokan," in Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of
Japanese Presence in Asia, Europe, and America, ed. Harumi Befu and
Sylvie Guichard-Anguis (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 70.
4. Entman and Rojecki, 49.
5. Gene Ching, "The Dragon and the Eagle: The Shaolin Diaspora in
America." Kungfu Magazine.com, 2. Available from
6. Entman and Rojecki, 48.
7. Ching, 3.
8. Entman and Rojecki, 50.
9. Ervin Nieves, "Ch'an Buddhism and Shaolin Martial Arts:
Shaolin Monk Shi Guolin Unveils Shaolin's True Essence," KungFu-Qigong,
October/November 1997, 37.
10. Bernard Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights: An
Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1993), 3.
11. Ibid, 53.
12. Etienne Balibar, "The Nation Form: History and Ideology," in
Race Critical Theories, ed. Philomena Essed and David Theo Goldberg
(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), 221.
13. Michael A. Fuller, An Introduction to Literary Chinese
(Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 1999), 31.
14. Sheng-yen Chang, Hoofprint of the Ox: Principles of the Chan
Buddhist Path as Taught by a Modern Chinese Master (Oxford and New
York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 164.
15. Ibid, 34.
16. Nöel Carroll, Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary
Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), 88.
17. Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights, 199.
18. Bernard Faure, Double Exposure: Cutting Across Buddhist and
Western Discourses, trans. Janet Lloyd (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2004), 97.
19. Shi Guolin, "Thoughts on Zen and Kungfu," Kungfu Qigong
Magazine, January/February 2002 2002, 40.
20. Ervin Nieves, "Ch'an Buddhism and Shaolin Martial Arts:
Shaolin Monk Shi Guolin Unveils Shaolin's True Essence," KungFu-Qigong,
October/November 1997, 35.
21. Faure, Double Exposure, 98.
22. Chang, Hoofprints of the Ox, 17; emphatics are my own
23. Martha Burr, "Shaolin Fist in Budapest: Monk Shi Xinghong at
the Hungarian Shaolin Temple Trains Cops, Ex-Comrades and World
Travelers," Kungfu Taichi Magazine, July/August 2004, 50.
24. Chang, Hoofprint of the Ox, 26.
25,. Zhang Longxi, The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics,
East and West (Durham, Duke University Press, 1992), 41.
26. Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights, 197.
27. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A
Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 21.
28. Ervin Nieves, "Ch'an Buddhism and Shaolin Martial Arts:
Shaolin Monk Shi Guolin Unveils Shaolin's True Essence," KungFu-Qigong,
October/November 1997, 37.
29. Lyotard, 20.
30. Gene Ching, “Shaolin Here and Now: Senior Monk Shi Deyang
Contemplates the Mystery of Shaolin Zen.” Kungfu Taichi Magazine,
July/August 2004, 28.
31. Kojin Karatani, “Uses of Aesthetics: After Orientalism.”
Translated by Sabu Kohso. boundary 2, Volume 25, No.2 (Summer
32. Ching, “Shaolin Here and Now,” 28.
33. Gene Ching, “Shaolin Brothers go West: Shi De Shan and Shi
Xing Hao, Two Shaolin Temple Monks, Begin Teaching in America.” Kungfu
Qigong Magazine, December 1999, 56.
34. Dieter Wagner, “Can Traditional Shaolin and Modern Wushu
Exist Together?: Shaolin Monk Shi Xinghao Speaks Out.” Kungfu Qigong
Magazine, January/February 2002, 53.
35. Hans-Georg Gadamer, “On the Scope of Hermeneutical
Reflection,” in Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics.
Translated and edited by David E. Linge, (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1976), 22.
36. Frühstück and Manzenreiter, 70.
37. Harumi Befu, “The Global Context of Japan Outside of Japan,”
in Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of Japanese Presence in Asia, Europe,
and America, ed. Harumi Befu and Sylvie Guichard-Anguis (London and New
York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003) 19.
38. Joseph S. M. Lau, Preface, in The Question of Reception:
Martial Arts Fiction in English Translation, ed. Liu Ching-chih (Hong
Kong: Center for Literature and Translation, 1997), iii.
39. Ching, “The Dragon and the Eagle,” 5.
40. Ibid, 11, 12.
41. Gadamer, 28.
42. Theodor Adorno, “On the Question ‘What is German?,” in
Theodor Adorno, Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords.
Translated by Henry W. Pickford (New York: Columbia University Press,
43. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. “On the Interpretation of the
Mahaµyaµna Suµtras,” in Buddhist Hermeneutics, ed.
Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), 50.
44. Pierre Bourdieu, “The Field of Culture Production, or: The
Economic World Reversed,” in Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural
Production (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993), 30.
45. Adorno, 206.
I. The Kungfu Qigong Articles
Burr, Martha. “Shaolin Fist in Budapest: Monk Shi Xinghong at the
Hungarian Shaolin Temple Trains Cops, Ex-Comrades, and World
Travelers.” Kungfu Taichi Magazine, July/August 2004: 48-52.
Ching, Gene. “A Diamond of the Fruitful Forrest: Shaolin Temple
Overseas and the Venerable Shi Guolin.” Kungfu Qigong Magazine, August
2000: 30, 40-45.
. “The Dragon and the Eagle: The Shaolin Diaspora in America.” Kungfu
. “Shaolin Brothers Go West: Shi De Shan and Shi Xing Hao, Two Shaolin
Temple Monks, Begin Teaching in America.” Kungfu Qigong Magaizine,
December 1999: 53-56.
. “Shaolin Here and Now: Senior Monk Shi Deyang Contemplates the
Mystery of Shaolin Zen.” Kungfu Taichi Magazine, July/August 2004:
Nieves, Ervin. “Ch’an Buddhism and Shaolin Martial Arts: Shaolin Monk
Shi Guolin Unveils Shaolin’s True Essence.” Kungfu Qigong Magazine,
October/November 1997: 26-29, 34-38.
Shi, Guolin. “Thoughts on Zen and Kungfu.” Kungfu Qigong Magazine,
January/February 2002: 40.
Shi, Yongxi. “A Special Message to the Readers of Kungfu Qigong from
Venerable Abbot Shi Yongxin.” Kungfu Qigong Magazine, January/February
Wagner, Dieter. “Can Traditional Shaolin and Modern Wushu Exist
Together?: Shaolin Monk Shi Xing Hao Speaks Out.” Kungfu Qigong
Magazine, January/February 2002: 52-55.
II. Theoretical and Other Materials
Adorno, Theodor. “On the Question ‘What is German?’” In Theodor Adorno,
Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. Translated by Henry W.
Pickford. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998: 205-214.
Balibar, Etienne. “The Nation Form: History and Ideology.” In Philomena
Essed and David Theo Goldberg, ed. Race Critical Theories. Oxford:
Blackwell Publishers, 2002:
Befu, Harumi. “The Global Context of Japan outside Japan.” In Harumi
Befu and Sylvie Guichard Anguis, ed. Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of
the Japanese Presence in Asia, Europe and America. London and New York:
RoutledgeCurzon, 2003: 3-21.
Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic
World Reversed.” In Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production:
Essays on Art and Literature. Edited by Randall Johnson. Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1993: 29-73.
Carroll, Nöel. Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction.
London and New York, Routledge, 1999.
Chang, Sheng-yen. Hoofprints of the Ox: Principles of the Chan Buddhist
Path as Taught by a Modern Chinese Master. Oxford and New York: Oxford
University Press, 2001.
Entman, Robert M. and Andrew Rojecki. The Black Image in the White
Mind: Media and Race in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago
Faure, Bernard. Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological
Critique of the Chan Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press,
. Double Exposure: Cutting Across Buddhist and Western Discourses.
Translated by Janet Lloyd. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.
. The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Frühstück, Sabine and Wolfram Manzenreiter. “Neverland Lost:
Judo Cultures in Austria, Japan, and Elsewhere Struggling for Cultural
Hegemony at the Vienna Budokan.” In Harumi Befu and Sylvie Guichard
Anguis, ed. Globalizing Japan: Ethnography of the Japanese Presence in
Asia, Europe and America. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003:
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. “On the Scope and Function of Hermeneutical
Reflection.” In Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics.
Translated by David E. Linge. Berkeley: University of California Press,
Karatani, Kojin. “Uses of Aesthetics: After Orientalism.” boundary 2,
Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer, 1998): 145-160.
Lau, Joseph S. M. Preface. In Liu Ching-chih, ed. The Question of
Reception: Martial Arts Fiction in English Translation. Hong Kong:
Center for Literature and Translation, 1997: iii-iv.
Lopez, Donald S. Jr. “On the Interpretation of the
Mahaµyaµna Suµtras.” In Donald S. Lopez Jr. ed.
Buddhist Hermeneutics. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988:
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on
Knowledge. Translated by Geoff Benington and Brian Massumi.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
Zhang, Longxi. The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics, East and
West. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.
LeRon Harrison is a doctoral
candidate at the University of California, Irvine in East Asian
Languages and Literature, specializing in Japanese court poetry and its
appropriation of Chinese poetics. He holds a bachelor’s degree
from the University of California, Berkeley in Japanese Language and
Literature and a master’s degree from Indiana University in Japanese
Literature. He has practiced wushu for nine years and taiji for three,
and is currently an assistant coach at the Taichi Wushu Resource in Los
Angeles. Harrison has won medals in both disciplines at competitions in
and around southern California, including a bronze medal in other
weapons at the 2005 Wushu Union US National Chinese Martial Arts
Championship in Las Vegas.